Categotry Archives: Tablets

Yeah, Pokemon Go Is A Real Virtual Thing


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A photo of a gravel street in Old Sacramento with a cartoon figure superimposed on it.

Rhydon has been seen near the Eagle Theatre in Old Sacramento State Historic Park. Beware!

A screenshot showing the Pokemon character "graveler" in front of a steam locomotive

Graveler in front of a steam locomotive at the California State Railroad Museum.


The social media landscape changes so quickly that it’s been difficult for the Media Platypus-ers to keep up with the rapid pace of things. Mostly it’s incremental– changes to Facebook algorithms, reading the extra ninety six pages of the latest ITunes Terms of Service Agreement, and wondering whatever happened to the first part of 2016.

But then comes Pokemon Go, and this seems to be a game changer. A silly game app with ridiculous characters that for many of us harken back to early childhood (or early parenthood) has come back, not to haunt us with memories of bad animation, but to get us out of our chairs and into the real world while searching for a virtual one. What a concept!

For the two or three people who have not heard all of the babble, Pokemon Go is an app for Androids and the iOS platform that puts you in a virtual reality platform on your device. Using your camera and the device’s GPS capabilities, you hunt for various creatures from Pokemon (Sand Shrew, anyone?) and in the right place you’ll find them and have various interactions, battles, and all sorts of nonsense that to the people around you who aren’t playing, will look really, really weird.

This really isn’t the first app that puts virtual reality aspects into historic areas. My historian friend

screenshot of the Ingress app, showing green and blue abstract polygons over a streetmap of a portion of downtown Sacramento California.

Ingress activity in downtown Sacramento. Who knew that there was such turmoil in our State Capital?

Kyle is addicted to Ingress, from the same developer, and in fact the Poke Stops in Pokemon Go are really the same thing that portals are in Ingress. I’ve actually used Ingress and as a result I understand even less of it (and it drains my phone battery,) but it involves portals and power sources that are constantly being seized by either the green or blue guys, and it just depends on what side you’d like to be on. The “adults” who are into Ingress can be also seen exploring historic areas and places they might not have otherwise explored, but rather than chasing silly cartoon characters, they are much more intelligently looking for portals and power centers to seize from the other entity.

I’m officially old these days, so it makes no sense to me, but with age comes perspective (I made this part up) and as an observer and a person who specializes in communication and enlightening people’s worlds, I’m delighted to see these things, even if I think they’re stupid. Why? Because they corollate with a theory I developed about geocaching in the early 2000s, about using technology to get geeky people away from their screens and into the outdoor environment that I think that everyone should be intimately acquainted with.

Without going into detail, I have tech-obsessed relatives who began geocaching, accidentally went outdoors, and without even knowing it, developed walking muscles, got tans, and learned about the natural and cultural environment while finding caches. Today I have a brother-in-law who is a world-class cacher, with thousands of caches to his credit, but he’s still very much a geek, and proudly so.

Pokemon Go is doing the same thing in a much more socially engaging way, or at least it’s really caught critical mass in a way that geocaching just hasn’t. It’s both funny (go to to read people’s complaints about sore legs from too much walking while playing Pokemon Go) to experiences that are directly useful for interpreters ( in that Pokemon Go (and Ingress, and even another app called “Tour Guide” can help you learn about the cultural environment you’re in.) It seems to me that the opportunity to link Pokemon Go and other players with our parks and historic sites is just an opportunity begging to be exploited.

This isn’t to say that these are appropriate everywhere, and indeed, the administrators of Arlington National Cemetery and the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. have asked people to respect the character and purpose of their sites by not engaging, and honestly I think that it was really stupid for Niantic and Nintendo to populate those sites with Pokemon characters (plus I wish that there was an opt-in/opt-out choice for businesses and landowners) but I’d prefer to dwell on the positive.

On the Facebook Group #diginterp, I asked the question of whether Pokemon Go was a problem for interpretive sites. Overwhelmingly, the answer has been NO! I think that a lot of interpreters and social media types are embracing the opportunity to engage with a new audience segment, sometimes even when they bump into you while staring at their device.

As always, I don’t know what will come of all this, but it’s a great new avenue into engagement. I just hope that we can come up with something that’s a bit more attractive than gravelers, sand shrews, and rattata!

The Interpreter’s Knapsack


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Ten years ago, if you had been on one of my guided hikes in some stunningly beautiful Canadian park (possibly in Pukaskwa National Park or Whiteshell Provincial Park), a few things might have happened. One, you would have fallen in love with your guide – that’s a given. Two, You would have wondered how a man could look so good in brown polyester pants, since the uniform obviously had not changed since the 70s. And three, you would have noticed that I was carrying an extremely heavy backpack. It may have looked like I was ready to go on a ten-day backcountry trip, but, in reality, the backpack was filled with a library of guidebooks – birds, mammals, animal tracks, insects, you name it. If you had asked me a question that I couldn’t answer, I would have lowered my backpack to the ground with a THUMP, opened it up, and taken out one of the well worn books, filled with yellow sticky markers and hand-written notes. We would have sat for a while, while I flipped through endless pages, finally stopping on an image of a tiny, brown bird, and shown you the answer to your question.

Well, times have changed, my friends. Times have changed. Recent advances in technology have revolutionized our ability to access information, and this, in turn, has opened up a world of possibilities for heritage interpreters.

Let’s imagine that I am able the break free of the shackle to my cubicle, and that I can once again lead you on a hike (And yes, I think I still fit into those polyester pants. Hold on, ladies! This isn’t Magic Mike!). Instead of carrying a dozen guidebooks, I would carry a tablet computer instead. What’s that bird, you ask? If I couldn’t answer, I would simply open up one of the many bird ID apps, show you a picture, and play its song to the group.

This is one of many useful bird identification apps – an interpreter’s dream!

But, I wouldn’t just use the tablet to replace the multitude of identification books. Imagine that I was talking about something that happens off season – like fish spawning, for example. I could easily pull up a photo or a video to show everyone. If I was working in a zoo or Aquarium, I could show footage of animal births, or feeding time, or spectacles from the wild. If I worked in a botanical garden, I could show photos of flowers that are no longer in bloom. At a museum, I could show footage of archaeological digs, images of other parts of the world, or how artifacts were used. Heck, if I worked at an art gallery, I could show segments from that dude with the afro on public access television (Bob Ross, from the Joy of Painting). Okay, that last suggestion was just to see who’s paying attention.

There are practical applications of having a tablet outside of the office as well. If I saw something that totally stumped me, I could snap a quick picture to show others back at the office. I could even make notes, and observe or record visitor behaviour (Paul, that’s not a spelling mistake – that’s Canadian English!).

But, as always, I must issue a stern word of warning. Visitors do not come to your park, site, museum, or facility just to look at a screen. They can do that at home. They come to connect with real stuff. They come to smell the air and listen to the birds in a park, to see real treasures and artifacts in a museum, and to walk in the place of history at hictoric sites. Facilitating those real connections must be your focus as an interpreter. But, technology can and should be used to enhance those connections – to show people things that they couldn’t see or hear on their own.

So, if you have an interpreter’s knapsack, it can still be filled with props and games. But, instead of all the laminated photos cut out of magazines and numerous identification books, a tablet is essential. I would go so far as to say every interpreter should have one. The possibilities are endless.